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In the next several blog posts, I’m going to dig deeper at the topic of women leaving business and the professions.  I’ll focus on why you (businesses, leaders, managers, men and women) should care. I’ll explore causes for the higher turnover (“quit”) rate of women. And I’ll suggest what leaders must do to engage and retain half their workforce (the female half). First, let me put the topic in perspective and give you some facts.

Commentaries on this issue range from whining and angry to downright celebratory. If the glass is half empty, there is much to bemoan about the slowness of women’s progress to the upper levels of business. If the glass if half full, OMG, look how far women have come! Read Gail Collins’ fabulous book, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, for a reminder of how women’s prospects in business expanded over the last 50 years (something I had somehow forgotten although I lived it)! 

Even further along the optimistic part of this spectrum is the prediction that women will dominate the business world. See my blog on the article predicting this reversal. I think parity is the goal, not a reversal. And I surely don’t think a reversal will happen in my lifetime. Women won’t even reach parity at the upper levels if the turnover trend continues.

We’ve come a long way since 1960, but have a long way to go. I recently lead a program for my law school and the local bar association. The topic was “A Leak in the Pipeline: Retaining Women in the Legal Workplace.” I and my panel of experts shared data showing that a talent pipeline that is very balanced between the genders, indeed, has a large leak. Women have been pouring into business and the professions, in equal proportion to their male colleagues, for at least three decades.  By now the representation of women should be the same at each level in a business. You know that it isn’t. At each level of business and law practice, the percentage of women is lower. Stack the percentages up and you have a pyramid, with the leakage occurring at each level.

According to Catalyst, women are 47% of total employees in U.S. business, about 40% of mid-level managers, 26% of senior officers, 6% of top earners and under 3% of CEO’s. In law, women are currently 47% of law school graduates, 45% of law firm associates but only 19% of partners and 6% of managing partners.

This is the “leaky talent pipeline” issue. In my next several posts I’ll explore the “business case”—why you should want to close this leak in the pipeline!